Business Email Writing – Intro Lesson

Business Email Writing – Intro (Download full lesson)
When teaching business email writing I usually start by explaining a theory of email writing I have developed over my years as a teacher which is based on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) [M.A.K. Halliday, 1980].

In this theory I break the writing down into three elements that should be considered when writing an email.

  • Stages of the email

  • Target language

  • Interpersonal language

Focusing on these elements can be an effective way to teach email writing to non-native speakers, as it helps them to break down the process of writing a particular genre of email into simple and logical steps. Considering these steps can help avoid some of the usual pitfalls with regards to email structure, appropriately polite language and specific language for the genre. The three elements can be simply explained as follows:

 

  1. Stages of the email (structure)

 

This involves breaking the email into different small sections that the email should go through to express its meaning effectively.

 

E.g. (for Summary of Annual Report email) Subject- Greeting- Aim of email- Refer to attachment- Summary of report, etc…

 

  1. Target language of the email

 

This is the most common language that will usually appear in a specific type of email.

 

E.g.  Summary of Annual Report email: projections/ increased/ fluctuated/ year on year/ sales figures etc…

 

Introducing a Product/Service email: offer a free sample/ high quality/major breakthrough etc…

 

  1. Interpersonal language

Interpersonal language focuses on using the most appropriate and polite language to address others.

In using the best interpersonal language modal verbs are extremely important.  (should, would, might, may, etc.)

e.g.  I should have…/ It would be advisable for you to…/you may…/ you might try…

 

The following is an example of how an email genre can be broken down into the three elements. This particular email is a complaint email from one company to another:


Subject: Complaint against your staff!

Dear Zhang Li,

I wish to complain about your customer service representative, Jenny, whom I contacted on June 17th 2014 regarding an issue with a late delivery.

I am complaining because Jenny was incredibly rude and insulting to me.   To resolve this problem I would like to receive a full apology and explanation or my company will take its business elsewhere.

When I learned of the late delivery, I contacted Jenny and was told that nothing could be done about my problem. After stating that this was not an acceptable explanation Jenny raised her voice and told me I should have contacted your company sooner to resolve the issue, thus blaming me for the incident.

I would like a written statement explaining your company’s position and what you will do about my complaint.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to resolve this problem. If I do not hear from you within 3 days I will contact my lawyer about terminating our contract.

You may reply to me at this email or call me at (phone number).

Sincerely,

Molly Price.


 

  1. Stages of a complaint email:

  • Subject

  • Greeting

  • Aim of email

  • Identification of complaint

  • Elaboration of complaint

  • Demand for action

  • Conditional threat

  • Recommendation

  • Sign-out


Subject: Complaint against your staff        Subject

 

Dear Zhang Li,      Greeting

 

I wish to complain about your customer service representative, Jenny, whom I contacted on June 17th 2014 regarding an issue with a late delivery.     Aim of email

I am complaining because Jenny was incredibly rude and insulting to me.   To resolve this problem I would like to receive a full apology and explanation or my company will take its business elsewhere.     Identification of complaint

When I learned of the late delivery, I contacted Jenny and was told that nothing could be done about my problem. After stating that this was not an acceptable explanation Jenny raised her voice and told me I should have contacted your company sooner to resolve the issue, thus blaming me for the incident.    Elaboration of complaint

I would like a written statement explaining your company’s position and what you will do about my complaint.       Demand for action

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to resolve this problem.  If I do not hear from you within 3 days I will contact my lawyer about terminating our contract.  Conditional threat

You may reply to me at this email or call me at (phone number).    Recommendation

Sincerely,      Sign out

Molly Price.


  1. Target language for a complaint email:

     

complain

contacted

late

rude

resolve this problem

full apology

explanation

nothing could be done

not  acceptable

explanation

raised her voice

written apology

contact my lawyer

terminate our contract

disappointed

inconvenience

outraged

inconsistent

 

  1. Interpersonal language:

 

Modal verbs-Modal verbs are used to express things express such things as possibility, probability, permission and obligation.

Can, could, might, may, must, should, will, would and shall are modal verbs.

 

Modal verbs to express ability

Can, could, was able to

Modal verbs to express permission

Can, can’t, could, may

Modal verbs to express probability and certainty

must, can’t, may, might, could

Past tense modal verbs:   must have, can’t have, couldn’t have

Modal verbs to express obligation

Should – to express weak obligation, advice

Should have – to express unfulfilled obligation in the past

Modal verbs – past tense forms and negatives

Modal verbs past tense forms ‘Had to’ vs. ‘must have’


I wish it could

I was hoping you could

I would like to receive

I would like information

I hope you can contact

I should have contacted

I would like

You may request

I was wondering if you would

It would be advisable to